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Fewer fans, increased costs 'new normal' for clubs in post COVID-19 world - study

Last updated 28 days ago | By Reuters

Reduction in stadium capacities, improved ventilation systems and mobile payment for tickets and drinks are some of the measures football clubs may have to implement while designing stadiums in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A study conducted by architecture studio Fenwick Iribarren says the design of stadiums in the future will be influenced by the outbreak and clubs will need to embrace solutions that promote social distancing in venues.

In order to enforce social distancing, clubs would need to either develop bigger venues with the same number of seats or reduce the capacity, with the latter the more likely solution, leading to a decline in matchday revenue, the study said.

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“No touch” solutions, including automatic doors, activation of lights by infrared detection and mobile payment for tickets and drinks are already available but implementing them would be expensive, increasing the cost of hosting matches.

According to KPMG, Europe’s top clubs suffered an estimated 15-30% loss in matchday revenue in the 2019-20 campaign due to their home games being played behind closed doors and if health restrictions prevail, longer-term losses can hit even harder.

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“It is still unknown whether fans will return to watch live football in the same crowded mass as before the pandemic,” Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s global head of sports, said.

“Experience, however, shows that once the direct and immediate threat of a crisis is gone, people tend to return to their routine activities — even more so if it is their passionate pastime.”

The study also touched upon the need for health screening procedures at stadiums, suggesting the use of facial recognition that links to a health data base to identify at-risk individuals.

Mark Fenwick, head of Fenwick Iribarren Architects, estimated clubs would reduce stadium capacity significantly to ensure a reasonable level of safety.

“I remember the great disasters in England changed stadiums with people standing up to people sitting down and seating capacity was reduced by 30%,” Fenwick said, referring to the Hillsborough and Heysel stadium disasters in the 1980s.

“It is necessary to see how the reduction of capacity is made, how the spaces where people mix are treated. But I think it is a sustainable and saleable challenge.”